Most big-name antivirus companies like to boast about their years of experience, but few can match G Data. Not only has the German developer been around for more than 30 years, it also claims to have developed the first antivirus program way back in 1985.
Fast forward to 2017 and G Data has highly-rated consumer security products for Windows, Android and Mac, as well as some very comprehensive endpoint solutions for businesses.
The range starts with G Data Antivirus. It's a straightforward package which focuses more on the malware fundamentals than throwing in bonus extras, but that's not necessarily a bad idea. A decent feature list includes exploit protection, anti-ransomware, and specialist browser hardening to help secure online banking and shopping.
The program uses multiple technologies to keep you safe, including its own engine, the Bitdefender engine, and a CYREN-based layer to better detect outbreaks as they happen.
Single device licences seem a little expensive at £30 ($38) for a year; most packages are less, and for example F-Secure Anti-Virus charges £20 ($25) to cover one device for a year. But there are major savings available if you're adding computers or extending the licence term, and a five computer two-year licence costs only £95 ($119).
G Data doesn't support legacy XP or Vista systems any more – it's strictly Windows 7 and later – but that's no great surprise. If that's not an issue for you, a free trial is available, and there's the added security of a 30-day money-back guarantee if you run into problems.
The G Data Antivirus trial was simple to find and download. We launched it and the program immediately complained about compatibility problems with some of our software. This might be acceptable if it was another antivirus package that was conflicting, but the highlighted software was ‘Visual Studio 2012 x64/x86 Redistributables’, completely safe and legitimate support files which would struggle to clash with anything at all.
The likely reason is that the files were held in an AVG-related folder in the Windows Component store. They couldn't possibly conflict with G Data, and there was no other trace of AVG software on the system, but G Data’s installer isn't smart enough to realise that: it just spots an AVG reference and raises the alarm. And although there's an Uninstall button to remove these listed files, that doesn't work either, which would annoy and frustrate non-technical users.
Fortunately, if you're confident an ‘incompatibility’ warning is garbage, it's easily bypassed. Clear the checkbox to the left of each file, hit Next and the setup process can continue.
After choosing exactly what you'd like to install, G Data Antivirus goes online and downloads whatever setup components it needs. In our test this took close to five minutes, but hey, you won't do it often (hopefully).
The final step requires creating an account by providing your name and email address. The installer also asks for your physical address and phone number, but these are optional and it's safe to leave the boxes blank. We entered our data and restarted the system when asked.
G Data saves its most interesting startup feature to the end. On launch, it doesn't just blindly connect to the nearest Wi-Fi network, but also evaluates it for security. It correctly spotted that we had a weak passphrase – the only antivirus we've seen to date which does that – and warned us to fix it.
The G Data Antivirus interface presents you with more information and options than some of the more stripped-back competition, but once you understand the basics it works very well.
The opening screen doesn't sum up your security status with a big ‘Protected’ caption or a reassuring green tick, for instance. It shows the status of all seven protection layers, along with update details, licence information and system messages.
The status headings also act as menus. Clicking ‘Next Update’ displays options to update virus signatures immediately, disable updates, or open the Settings dialog for more options.
Scanning works in a similar way. Instead of a single Scan button, G Data Antivirus displays all its options upfront: quick scan, full scan, check specific files or folders, removable drives, or scan for rootkits.
Scans were a little slower than average, but also accurate, detecting every sample we tried. By default they also seem to raise more false alarms than usual, for example repeatedly warning us about uTorrent even when we'd told the program we didn't want to remove it.
The URL filter was another plus, blocking almost all our web threat URLs, and without needing to install any troublesome extensions. (Don't worry about that ‘almost’ qualification there: no filter is perfect, and the antivirus and other layers can still protect you from danger on unblocked sites.)
Some G Data Antivirus components are difficult to test. The ransomware detector, BankGuard and exploit protection do most of the work deep inside the engine, and there's no way to sensibly evaluate them in this review. Instead we'll look at the reports of the independent testing labs, later on.
We did manage to check out the Keylogger Protection module. We tried it with a couple of keyloggers and it successfully blocked them both. You can opt to extend its protection beyond your browsers, too, although G Data warns this might not work with every application.
The only other bonus tool is Autostart Manager, an easy way to optimise your PC by delaying the launch of some Windows startup programs. If you're tired of the Steam client grabbing resources every time your system boots, for instance, you can delay its start for two minutes (or three, or more). Less competition at boot time means your PC is usable more quickly, although of course your delayed programs still run eventually. This can be a useful feature, although there's excellent freeware which does the same and more.
All this is controlled from a nicely designed settings dialog with plenty of thoughtful touches. A Network Access dialog defines which networks will be used to download updates, for instance, allowing you to stop the program chewing up bandwidth on a metered connection.
G Data Antivirus doesn't have the longest of feature lists, but on balance it's a likeable product which does a good job of keeping you safe.
We run some malware tests during antivirus reviews, but the major testing labs do many more and over a longer period, and it's important to check their reports to get the big picture.
AV Comparatives hasn't tested G Data products for a few years now, but AV-Test includes them in most reports, usually with positive results. Its April 2017 ‘best antivirus software for Windows home user’ report found the program protected against 100% of widespread malware, and very close to 100% of zero-day attacks, earning it the maximum protection score. The report also found some performance impact and more false alarms than usual, though, reducing G Data’s overall score.
The April 2017 VB100 tests are all about protection, and again G Data scores very well, particularly when blocking those tricky zero-day threats.
Finally, we tried to look deeper into the question marks over performance by checking PassMark's March 2017 Security Performance Benchmark. This report assessed 15 security suites with 23 metrics, and G Data was way down the field in 12th place (only Avira and a couple of Trend Micro products were lower).
Low scores like this are a disappointment, but it's important to keep them in perspective. G Data did well in some tests, the differences between the packages are often marginal, and protection is more important than speed, anyway. Test for the issue if it's a concern, but don't let it put you off downloading the trial.
G Data Antivirus is an accurate and reliable malware blocker, but the price, performance and assorted other issues mean that it isn’t at the front of the pack in the security world.
- We've also highlighted the best antivirus software in this roundup